Many years ago, Patricia Cross defined “community” not “only as a region to be served but as a climate to be created.” “Morale,”
she said, “is the outcome of shared vision.”
This kind of leadership is built upon drawing circles that pull people in, rather than
leaving them out. And it is a given within
this 21st-century leadership model that
diversity of opinion—as well as gender,
race, class, ethnicity, age, sexual preference,
etc.—is a strength, not a burden.
As decades pass, populations change
and new paradigms emerge. To respond,
leaders must learn to listen more while
others take on more leadership roles.
Ironically, this seeming redistribution
of power doesn’t lead to chaos, but to a
My many years as a community col-
lege professional have led me to a simple
leadership formula built on:
• Strong and visionary educational
leadership, dedicated to making
creative things happen rather than
finding reasons why they cannot.
The result is turning “administra-
tor as barrier” into “administrator
• A recognition that everything we
do in the contemporary community
college is workforce development,
whether we are educating accoun-
tants, nurses, welders, poets or
dancers. Credit and non-credit dis-
tinctions, in terms of mission and
completion, are a thing of the past.
• An emphasis on teaching and
learning. If curriculum is our
product, it must be state-of- the-art,
market-viable and delivered at the
highest possible level.
• A celebration of the rich diversity of
our students and justifiable pride in
our open door mission. This means
making our colleges work for every
student, not just the ones who look
• A recognition that the classroom
(real or virtual) is a far more important place on the campus than the
executive office. Students—not the
president, not the faculty, not the
coaches nor the advisors—are the
most important persons on campus.
• Open communication, both lateral
and vertical, across the institution.
• Consistent application of policies
and procedures across the college. People working in different
departments should not be held to
• A celebration of partnerships, both
internal and external. No one has
enough money to do all that must be
done. As an African proverb wisely
notes, “When spider webs unite, they
can tie up a lion.”
These premises are my prescription
for community college leadership today.
Although presidents’ portraits hang in
the hallways, few students remember
their college president’s name. But
every student remembers the name of a
faculty member, counselor, secretary or
advisor. Our reputations are carved out
on the backs of these professionals, the
links to the real definition of student
success. In Robert Greenleaf’s familiar
concept of “Leader as Servant,” titular
power comes from above (the governing
board); real power comes from below
(the people served).
In an institutional climate built upon
cooperation and respect, the mantra of
student success becomes more than a
marketing slogan. Infused with spirited,
commitment and action, the words take on
real meaning in the lives of real students.
And if the only reason any of us has a job
is because we have students to serve, then
student success, made up of both spirit and
meaning, really does become Job #1.
Sandra L. Kurtinitis is president of Community College of
Baltimore County and chair of the AACC Board of Directors.
Sandra L. Kurtinitis
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